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High school senior spreads Ukraine knowledge through free libraries at local businesses

Shaye Kirman, a 17-year-old who summers on the East End and will enter his senior year at Trinity School in Manhattan this fall, is spreading knowledge about Ukraine throughout the area by placing free libraries in local businesses. 

“The name ‘Free Ukraine Libraries’ is a play on words; people can read it as ‘Free Library’ or ‘Free Ukraine,’ ” Shaye said. 

The Free Ukraine Libraries are repurposed shoeboxes filled with books about Ukraine and decorated by Shaye in blue and yellow, the colors on the country’s flag. Each box, or “library branch,” contains five books about Ukraine’s identity. Inside, readers may find books on history and language, picture books, children’s books and even cookbooks.

Customers who find the free libraries at their local coffee shops are welcome to take a book from the box, read it, and return it or pass it along to a friend. “I was thinking of how I can fill this knowledge gap,” said Shaye. “It’s not about politics. It’s about education.” 

When the country was invaded in 2022, Shaye realized his knowledge of Ukraine and his own heritage were limited. Both his parents were born in Russian-speaking areas of Soviet Ukraine. They immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s as Jewish refugees. “I knew about those three parts of me but didn’t know much about the Ukrainian part,” he said.

Shaye was not alone in his lack of knowledge. He found that many Americans considered Ukraine “one of the republics” and not an independent country. 

In a press release, Shaye said: “I wanted to share this knowledge with others in settings like coffee shops and other businesses that foster community. I especially want to focus on small towns that have strong communities so that the books can circulate widely.”

Free Ukraine Libraries are currently in place at Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck; Sarikapo Organic Coffee & Tea House and Mugs on Main in Riverhead; Beach Bakery in Westhampton Beach; and Coho Coffee House and Southdown Coffee in Patchogue. To date, Shaye has placed 20 boxes throughout Long Island and in Manhattan, Westchester and Connecticut.

Love Lane Kitchen manager Elisa Ferrebee said, “We are excited to host a Free Ukraine Library in our shop and wholeheartedly support Shaye’s important mission to educate Americans about the country of Ukraine.” 

According to his release, Shaye is planning a book drive in September to increase the number of books he can place in these libraries. Each box of books costs around $75 to $100. He is already actively fundraising via email ([email protected]) and on his website to fund the cost of the books. Free Ukraine Library is a registered 501c(3) nonprofit, so all donations are tax-deductible. 

Shaye also plans to expand the project by establishing more “branches” of his free libraries in the tri-state area. 

“It’s been going great, the way the Free Ukraine Library is a force multiplier of knowledge that can grow over time,” he said.